Mar 162011
 

This week I’m interrupting my story of my perspective shift to announce that David Baboulene will be joining me at HearWriteNow on the 29th March on a stop of his blog book tour for The Story Book: A Writer’s Guide to Story Development, Principles, Problem Solving, and Marketing.

If I had been writing blog posts more frequently, I would’ve reached the one about how I got caught up in writing about fiction instead of writing my fiction and why I have decided to stop writing for writers and start writing for readers. I might also have reached the post about synchronicity and how it has constantly tricked me into deviating from the path I really should be on. So, in a few weeks’ time you can say to me: “Huh? I thought you weren’t doing this anymore?” Well, I’ve made an exception for this book. (Though: is it really an exception if I haven’t yet begun cutting these distractions out of my time…?)

I think this book just might be something special. (It arrived yesterdary, so I’ve only just cracked it open.) But what convinced me to read this book and accept the invitation to host David on his book tour was learning that he is in the process of writing a Ph.D. thesis on subtext in story and how subtext resonates with the reader’s mind. Subtext is a writing element that is very important to me, and the new fiction project I’ve started thanks to my perspective shift actually revolves around a particular societal subtext (more about that when I’m ready to launch it). What was that about synchronicity? Oh dear.

Anyway, I’m going to read this book. I’ll let you know what I think of it. And mark the 29th (the evening of the 29th or early morning of the 30th if you’re in Australia, etc) in your diary and join us for a discussion of subtext. Come armed with lots of questions!

David Baboulene’s website
The Story Book is available from Amazon UK, and on Kindle from Amazon.com

My review copy was sent to me by the author.

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Feb 282011
 

On to Part 2 of the lightbulb moment caused by Eben Pagan’s video launch of his Self-Made Wealth course. In the second and third video Eben Pagan spoke about a man I’m sure you’ve heard of: Warren Buffett. Warren Buffett takes so much care with his wealth that he doesn’t look at the dollar price tag of major purchases, but at the lost investment amount or “opportunity cost” of that purchase. In other words, money he spends on something like a car could’ve been invested in X at Y% interest, so in 20 years time he would have lost Z amount of wealth all due to buying this item*.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, think back to the concept of your imagination and your writing skill as the asset with which you are to create your wealth. Now think of some of the things you do in terms of “opportunity cost”. Surfing the Internet? Watching something on TV you’re not even interested in just because it’s on? Playing FarmVille / Farm Town / FrontierVille / Social City / Restaurant City… on FaceBook (those are the first few of 47 new game requests that have popped up since I deleted the last requests a fortnight ago). How about spending several hours on social networking tasks to promote your affiliate marketing sites? Or making new sites, selecting products, writing code, making everything look nice? An extra hour in bed when instead you could be producing a quarter of a short story or a tenth of a chapter? What about reviewing books for the whopping 4% commission on Amazon? I’m thinking out loud now: this is my list. Spending several days carefully crafting each Word 4 Writers module at – wait for it – 80c per module per student. Thousands of hours spent on Squidoo at less than a dollar an hour. That’s just the ice-cube in my night-cap; I’m nowhere near the iceberg yet.

“Don’t sell your time for less than it’s worth.” – Eben Pagan

That’s not to say that we should henceforth cut off all non-productive pursuits and become writing robots. But it is worth asking, “Is this particular activity worth not only my time now, but also my time lost?” For unpublished writers it is hard to put a dollar value on one’s time. That opportunity cost formula that comes so easily to Warren Buffett, who knows exactly what he wants to do with every dollar, is nearly impossible for someone like me to calculate.

But the term “opportunity cost” has another connotation for writers. Occasionally an opportunity may arise to transmute an asset, such as a manuscript, into wealth, such as a traditionally published book complete with advance and royalties. As writers our investment is having these assets ready and available for such an opportunity. Doing anything else but writing cuts into this investment. Wasting time costs you interest. A few years ago I came across the website of a publishing company requesting children’s fantasy manuscripts: mine wasn’t ready. Still isn’t. You know that feeling you get when you freefall, and your stomach seems to end up in a different place to the rest of you? That’s how I felt when what Eben was saying clicked for me.

A couple of weeks ago I read two blog posts about two self-publishing authors that really made me think:
L.J. Sellers and Alisa Valdes.

L.J. Sellers told interviewer Helen Ginger: “…one of the main factors that led me to leave my publisher was the waiting time. I had books completed and scheduled to be released in the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2013. I started thinking about how much money I could make on my own in the meantime if I published the e-books immediately. I decided not to wait.”

Alisa Valdes had a similar lightbulb moment. But she also had the experience of her original publisher not understanding that what Alisa’s readers wanted to buy was not what the publisher wanted to sell them. Alisa did understand, and so she gave her readers what they wanted; publisher be damned.

I told you this was a series of small thoughts adding to a major perspective shift. Reading L.J.’s words above seemed to echo something I’d been pondering for a year or longer. Except in my case it was the realisation that I had a market expressing interest in what I had to offer with a definite sense that I wouldn’t be able to get a publisher interested in time to capture this market. So, if this has been on my mind for a year, why am I only now starting to get it off the ground? Well, there’s that focus thing again. Along came an opportunity to relaunch Word 4 Writers at the same time and I saw it as a sign. I do a lot of that, too, and just for kicks I’ll give you some examples in another post.

And another reason is fear. Word 4 Writers was just sharing information; sharing my stories means sharing a part of my soul. And that’s a deep pool to plunge into.

* If this brief introduction has piqued your own interest in doing some maths of your own, here is a handy online compound interest calculator put out by the Australian government.

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Feb 202011
 

In my last post I spoke about how Sonia Simone’s perspective on focus highlighted my multiple thumbs-in-pies malady. I didn’t always lack focus; in fact my training novel and second novel were completed with a great deal of self-discipline, including, as I’ve mentioned previously, giving up reading fiction for a year. I’ll come back to the topic of how I lost my focus in an upcoming post. First I want to fast-forward to January this year and talk about the series of videos that electrified me and have helped to launch me onto the trajectory I thought I should have been on but couldn’t justify until now.

Those videos were made by an internet marketer called Eben Pagan to launch his course called Self-Made Wealth. That (two grand!) course is now closed, but as of this writing the pre-launch videos are still up and well worth watching.

The first thing that stuck in my mind from one of Eben’s videos was the concept of Fiat Money. I’d heard this concept before, but Eben put it really simply: basically, cash money is worthless; it only has value because we (or governments really) say it does. Extremely wealthy people do not hold their wealth in cash; they invest in assets that appreciate in value. Simple.

Then he added to that thought with some examples about investing and included an anecdote about someone with a thriving business, and the perspective that this person would be best off investing any profits back into his business and not into other shares or investments. (Now, I don’t completely agree with this because I’m of the eggs-and-baskets mind-set. Nevertheless…)

The idea that really hit me upside the head, though, was almost a throw-away line or two (because this course is about getting out of a debt mindset, not how to launch a business, so it wasn’t the core idea of the videos). Eben said that the way to create wealth is to create something of value that people want to buy. Create something out of nothing, in other words.

Create something of value that people want to buy.

Again, not a new idea. But it was the way all these ideas (and more that I’ll share later) came together in my mind.

It was the word “create” that got me. Eben was talking about creating info-products. The internet marketer’s golden goose. But “create” means something totally different to me, and, if you’re an artist or writer or in another creative field, you’ll understand this mental leap immediately.

My next thought went to people like JK Rowling and Stephen King. Create something out of nothing: well they certainly did that, and, yes, they re-invested and diversified what they created and it generated wealth for them. Ha! Understatement.

Eben Pagan also mentioned the famous Star Trek James Kirk/Kobayashi Maru anecdote, making the point that sometimes you don’t have to put up with the program that someone else has written for your life. If you think outside the box, you can write your own program. Writers, in particular, are often trapped in the no-win mindset that attempting to go the route of self-publishing could sabotage your chance for traditional publication, while waiting for your traditional publication lottery numbers to come up might mean a long wait that costs you readers and income.

Finally, I got a real emotional lift. Due to societal training that teaches us to buy into this fiat money illusion, I’ve long thought of myself as inferior because I don’t earn an income. It’s like being part of a business but not being a shareholder: your vote doesn’t count. I’m a stay-at-home mum dabbling in website content and affiliate marketing while trying to find some time and energy to write down the fiction threatening to leak out of my brain. I thought that’s what I should do; it’s a rare writer who doesn’t supplement her fiction income using other writing avenues, if not an actual day job. But what is wealth, really? Well, it’s not money. It’s not income, or “working for The Man”. Wealth is reflected in assets and in the creation of something that others want to buy or trade for.

What greater asset than one’s mind when that mind can create works of fiction that people want to read?

What greater wealth than imagination?

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Feb 112011
 

Last week I mentioned an accumulation of ideas that has brought about a massive shift in my perspective. I’ll start with the idea that I came across two years ago that really put all this into motion.

I found that idea in a blog post by Sonia Simone of Remarkable Communication and CopyBlogger. That post was called Beatrix Kiddo’s Guide to Making It Happen. Now, I loathed both volumes of Kill Bill and anything remotely to do with QT, but I somehow I managed to have seen these movies and Sonia’s analogy made a lot of sense to me. Sonia talks about focus and how Beatrix Kiddo (The Bride) was the epitome of focus, particularly when she slowly and methodically punched her way out of a buried coffin. Millions and millions of little punches, again, and again, and again. Sound a bit like writing a novel?

If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s focused. I am the queen of multi-tasking. I’m usually reading three or four books at once (fiction and non), and reviewing them, writing two different fiction books and compiling material for some e-book or course or the like, plus “maintaining” or contributing to several blogs, websites (this one and two BellaOnline sites in the past), over 100 lenses and hubs, affiliate marketing ventures… not to mention parenting my toddler who has made it his goal to pull his mummy away from the computer* whenever she “just needs to check something”. Hell, scrap “queen”: I’m the joker, juggling a few dozen balls and hardly noticing all those I’ve dropped along the way.

I read Sonia’s post when I was pregnant and realised I would need to find some of that focus once my child was born because my time would be much more limited. So I cut back on a layer of stuff that I no longer absolutely loved doing (goodbye BellaOnline). What I didn’t realise, though, was the definition of “much more limited time” due to a baby is more accurately “zero time”. A baby is a vortex. It was actually a good chance to shed even more of that stuff that sucked up my now very precious time at the computer; anything else that I hadn’t missed when I was “offline” could go as well.

When my child finally began sleeping during the day, I found myself with real, genuine, super-concentrated, cold-pressed, 100% pure, Time. I used it well to begin with. Anything that could be done when my son was awake could wait until he was awake. (Thus I now have a toddler who helps me unpack the dishwasher, fold the laundry, and push the vaccuum cleaner around.) Nap times were reserved for writing, painting, or sleeping. I became quite strict with myself, knowing that I only had an hour or two at the most. I made myself a schedule split into “Priority” tasks involving my family, my health, housework, and my fiction writing, and “Venture” tasks, which included chasing opportunities to make some pocket money online. Priority tasks got assigned first, venture tasks happened if and when there was extra time left over.

I thought it was a pretty good system. I certainly felt more focused for a while. But I still had a lot of balls in the air. So many interests, so few hours in the day.

But like all things, as soon as I came to rely on having “that free hour when my child has a nap” I began to find ways to waste it. I have a weakness for online conversation. I hadn’t realised how opinionated I was until I started tracking how much advice I was dispensing on various forums. I knew I had to stop when I caught myself digging through my browser history and hopping from one site to the next and back again to check if anyone had responded to my comments. The next thing I knew my baby was waking up and I’d spent an hour going in circles.

As Miss Snark once put it: “Discipline, grasshopper. Discipline.”

*And who can blame him: I hate being ignored in favour of a screen too.

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Feb 042011
 

Sorry I’ve been quiet for so long. The last half of last year was whisked away with the Charter Class of my Word 4 Writers Course. Since I was writing the modules (for both version 2007 and version 2010) at the same pace that my students were taking the class, it was an incredibly intensive workload that I had to cram into the couple of hours when my toddler slept and a few hours at night after everyone else had gone to bed. I pulled several midnight+ sessions.

But the outcome of that is that I finished two versions of Word 4 Writers and I’m very pleased with the result. This is far better than the original Word 4 Writers, and I would never have kept on schedule if I hadn’t had students to whom I had to deliver each week. So a big thank you to my charter students for hanging in there with me.

The bad news, however, is that my laptop’s hard drive died a few weeks ago. Murphy’s Law: it happened right after I wrote and posted an article on Blood-Red Pencil about backing up! Thankfully our computers are networked and synchronised, so I haven’t lost any actual work. But I’m not sure whether I somehow managed to back up my emails. I suspect not, and, if that is indeed the case, I will have lost all 48 training emails I sent out for Word 4 Writers. (If any of my charter students are prepared to forward those back to me, I would be extremely grateful; in fact I’ll refund your course costs for the first student to do so.) If I have lost those emails, it is not worth my time to rewrite them, and that means the Word 4 Writers Course will be in jeopardy. I’m moving on to something different this year and I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done. But I am thinking of offering Word 4 Writers as a printed book instead… stayed tuned.

In upcoming posts I want to share some amazing insight I’ve had this month. It has been an accumulation of ideas and perspectives that have all slotted in together brilliantly, and I’m feeling very excited and positive about the rest of this year.

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Aug 132010
 

Selma is conducting a poll of writers: Do you read? How often and how much? What are you reading right now? Do you read while you’re writing?

Selma says: I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches a creative writing course at the local university about writers and reading. She says that most of her students don’t read. They are adults who are paying fifteen thousand dollars to do a degree and they don’t read. They are too busy learning how to be writers. They are too busy writing, to read.

Something is definitely wrong with that scenario. The way I look at it is, how can you become a writer – a good writer – if you don’t read?

Here’s my response:

I used to read about 100 books a year, almost entirely fiction. The year I concentrated on writing my first real novel (i.e., second novel if you count the “training novel”) I decided that I would not read while I was writing after I found myself taking on Dickens’s style of writing while re-reading Oliver Twist. It was a very obvious example otherwise I might not have noticed. I decided that I needed to develop my own voice first before I could again combine my two joys of writing and reading. I lasted almost a year without reading fiction and it was really hard. It took a lot of discipline to not reach for a book, and I’m afraid I really don’t understand people who can exist without needing to read. And I don’t think you can be a good writer if you don’t need to read; if you’re not addicted to stories. Nowadays I can read and write at the same time without it affecting my style, but I have become lazy I think. Or perhaps just demotivated. It feels easier to pick up a book and read than it does to write these days.

Right now I’m re-reading Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. This is the first book in a trilogy that itself is part of an eleven-book series. Now that I’ve read all eleven I wanted to start again to pick up the foreshadowing and nuances that a first time read precludes. My husband thinks I’m nuts. What about you? 😉

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May 202010
 

House Season 6I’ve been fascinated by the character Gregory House (from the TV show House, M.D.) for a while now. Can he be called an “anti-hero”? Perhaps the term should be “anti-protagonist”? Or perhaps it is heroic, story-wise, to wrap one’s brain through medical mysteries and save the patient in the nick of time, even if it is not the patient’s life one cares about but his illness.

Whatever you want to call him, House is supposed to be anything but likeable. And yet he is a compelling and brilliant character. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the character is portrayed by a superb actor in Hugh Laurie.)

What is it that keeps us coming back for more of this curmudgeonly arrogant bully?

The Mystery is Elementary, Dear Wilson

While the mystery to be solved in each episode falls under the domain of the plot, it is essential that the great detection and explanation is made by House, the detective-protagonist. Audiences and readers can forgive a lot in a good detective, as long as he delivers the goods: the juicy mystery solved in the most theatrical way possible.

Is He Serious?

House says things that are meant to shock. They are unexpected coming from a medical professional who is supposed to pay lip service to a vaguely acceptable bedside manner. House always catches new patients and their families off guard; they give him the benefit of the doubt, waiting for the punchline. He disorientates them long enough to get away with his remarks before hitting them with a flash of genius.

Inspiration Strikes

On the other hand, House’s colleagues and the audience know him well enough not to be distracted by his outrageous comments, but expect, instead, the now-familiar pause in the middle of a monologue that precedes his declaration that he has solved the mystery by linking it to something bizarre and seemingly unrelated. We are dragged along in fascination as we wait for the explanation as to the connection.

Relationships

Most importantly, though, in all fiction is the relationship between characters. Readers cannot identify with a character in a relational vacuum; readers need context. The element that saves House episode after episode is the grudging respect the other characters have for him. Wilson places such a high value on House’s friendship that he is willing to accept the worst possible treatment from him; he’s had his life, his relationship, his home, and his privacy turned upside down by House. He’s tried to end the friendship numerous times yet House is the person he needs to have with him when he is at his most vulnerable. Cameron and Cuddy both went so far as to fall in love with House and tried to rescue him from himself. Cuddy lied under oath for him. Foreman, Chase, Thirteen, and Taub cannot stand to work for House, but they do anyway; they stay, they leave, they return: something draws them to him.

And then there are the “minor” characters who play a major role in showing the audience who Greg House really is and why he is worth our time. Remember “Scooter”, the med school admin officer who masqueraded as a doctor to join House’s team? Scooter mirrored House’s thought processes but with a calm, dignified demeanour: House as he might have been without the arrogance, bitterness, and addictions. Would Scooter have turned into a House had he been given authority and power like House instead of being an employee for 30 years?

Tritter, the cop out to get House, pushes House to breaking point. For the first time the audience has the chance to feel sorry for House while experiencing shock that, this time, House is not going to get away with what he usually would.

Which takes House into the hands of rehabilitation psychiatrist Dr Nolan. Nolan is more than up to the task of House-keeping. He is another character with patience and dignity who seems to know exactly what House is thinking and how to handle him. But the switch in the relationship is what makes it so compelling: it is a game as long as both are trying to out-think and out-manoeuvre the other. It’s less of a game when House begins to need Nolan. And the game is over when Nolan needs House.

Every relationship needs both participants to alternate support and vulnerability; being the “strong one” and the dependent one; the give and take. And every character needs a relationship. It is the most vital element of a good story.

It’s easy to write unlikeable characters who bore or offend your readers. It takes far more skill to write a character your readers are drawn to despite his flaws.

More on the importance of character relationships

House : Seasons 1-5
House : Season 6

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May 052010
 

***The following contains spoilers for the Australian television movie Little Oberon.***

Here is an example from a movie (Little Oberon) of showing the audience key elements of the story instead of telling them. (“Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell”: something my writing teachers always drummed into my head.) It’s much easier to show in a visual medium such as film, but you can still use these concepts in a book.

In the movie, a teenager was trying to find out who her real father was. She doesn’t find out herself during the course of the movie, but the audience does if they are paying attention, because the audience is let into the secret by a few brief scenes that need to be interpreted.

In one scene quite early in the movie, the teenager orders a cup of tea at a café. She quickly spoons three heaped sugars into the cup and stirs it quite lightly, tapping the spoon on the rim of the cup. She’s not really paying attention to what she’s doing, but the scene stands out because she’s being watched by a boy who’s interested in her.

Later, near the end of the movie, a man is offered a mug of tea together with a bowl of sugar. He heaps three sugars into the mug, stirs lightly, and taps the mug with the spoon. It is so similar to the manner in which the teenager took her tea that the audience is bound to be left with an “Aha” moment. This man is her real father.

It is now that the audience realise that there were other clues – also shown – to confirm this theory. We hear this man speak with an Irish accent. When another character tells the teenager a well-known Irish saying, she is entranced. It is clearly the first time she has heard the saying, but she takes it to heart, and repeats it at the end of the film – after the duplicate tea-stirring scene.

But none of the characters in the film notice this similarity – at least not yet. The film ends leaving open the possibility that the characters might still run into each other and notice these similarities. Of course, there’s also the possibility that some audience members would not have picked this clue up – but that doesn’t matter since it’s only part of the story. It’s more important that the audience who did notice it have enjoyed the little secret twist that only they are allowed to discover by themselves. There is no audience hand-holding by having the character turn round and tell the audience what just happened: “Wait a minute. You take three sugars in your tea, just like me. Are you my father?”

It’s important to trust your readers to discover and interpret the clues you leave when you show part of your story. When you decide over and over that you must confirm the clues by telling the reader what is going on, you really show the reader that you don’t trust her to be intelligent enough to pick up what you mean. And you also show the reader that you don’t have enough faith in your own ability as a writer. Let go of some of the control of your story.

More on Showing and Telling

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May 012010
 

I can handle small doses of horror in book form (not movies), but what I really can’t stomach is romance. Take that as a disclaimer. I avoid romance and romance blend genres, including Fantasy-Romance, as much as possible, so I haven’t read the books that contain the concept that I feel like griping about today. And I may need to insert some Sci-Fi-slash-Urban Fantasy Technobabble just to get through this post.

Here’s my Logic:Fail. Character A (let’s say this character is male*) is immortal and has lived a comparatively long time (say a few hundred years (although nobody beats Methos from Highlander at 5000 years)). Character B (female, love interest) is fifteen or sixteen. Not fifty. Not fifteen hundred. Fifteen. A teenager. Yes, like the ones hanging around at the mall. I get that the 200-year-old man is still hunky and feels like he’s young still and all that, but, seriously? I have tried to imagine the most mature, intelligent, capable, driven, and inspirational young teenage women I have known or read about in such a situation (even thinking of someone like Anne Frank or Mary Shelley); I have pondered how desperately and embarrassingly my girlfriends and I, as teenagers, tried to get the attention of boys just a little bit older than us, let alone the crushes we had on some of our much older male teachers and other role models.

Just what could a 200-year-old man possibly fall in love with in a fifteen year old girl? A being who has two centuries’ worth of experience of the world/galaxy/multiverse; of lives that have come and gone; of technologies and world-powers and wars and treaties and opinions and philosophies changing and changing. (Of mitochondria, midochloria, and FTL hyperdrive, of dilithium, gravimetric field displacement, and warp core reactors.) I’m just too cynical to see any innocence in such a “romance”. But I do understand exactly why the story is lapped up by teenagers who daydream about running away with their gorgeous English teacher. But, kids, when you get a little older and wiser and start really thinking about this concept: cue the ew.

(* There seem to be remarkably few 500-year-old women seeking romantic liaisons with a willing Adonis these days, but that’s almost another post.)

Image: Full Moon © Peter Neal, 2006.

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Apr 152010
 

There is now a “lite” version of the “How to Revise Your Novel” Workshop available for only $5. This is a complete revision programme; not a teaser. It was created by an author who was offered an opportunity to submit her novel to fit an unexpected open slot in a publisher’s line-up… with the catch that the deadline for the completed manuscript was the following week. She did it: revised an entire novel in a week. She’s put together everything she learnt about revising the hard way, with the good news that you can take as much time as you need to do your own revision. If you don’t know where to start revising here is a handy guide to getting through the process.

How to Revise Your Novel Lite, 50 pages, PDF

(Note that the sign up site will push you twice to consider the full How to Revise Your Novel workshop. If you only want the $5 Lite course, just click “No thanks” each time and it will redirect you. You can always upgrade later if you want to.)

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